Heta Vajavaara is a 24-year-old fashion and textile designer from Helsinki. She grew up in a suburb surrounded by a forest, fields and a river, references you can easily spot on her designs and caught our eye with her collection of Reppureppu backpacks, an affordable series of multi-use bags that can be used as backpacks, shoulder bags or as tote bags, which she designed alongside with Antti Kalevi. Young and bold as hell, Heta insists that the cheap clothing chains condemn people not to stand out and turns down one of the most cited fashion clichés.
Tell us a few things about your collection of backpacks. The initial inspiration, the production process and their impact on the public.
The backpacks were a collaboration with illustrator Antti Kalevi. We have similar aesthetics so we wanted to do something together. We kept seeing people wearing these inexpensive white tote bags as backpacks and wanted to make a refined version of that. The aim was to make something very simple and cheerful but also multifunctional, so that the backpack could be used also as a tote or a shoulder bag. We came up with the concept and design together, but Antti was more in charge of the prints and the name and graphic design. I did the pattern design and handled the production. Keeping things simple, we named the backpack Reppureppu, which is actually the Finnish word for backpack, reppu, repeated twice. Everything is handmade and we decided it would be a limited edition. This was sort of a test run, we wanted to see how people would react to them. We've got really good feedback and there's been a lot of people interested, so let's see what happens next!
Reppureppu is quite affordable. So, you seem not to think designer products should be expensive. Is that right?
Well, the backpacks were affordable because we put a lot of our own effort and extra hours into it. We wanted people to be able to buy them, otherwise we wouldn't get any real feedback from the customers. The more I work in this field, the more I think that people are too used to paying almost nothing for their clothes and accessories. If you buy really cheap clothes, someone in the production end is not being paid enough.
What should a woman have in her closet?
A garment that makes her feel powerful and at ease.
What colors do you prefer for the clothes you design?
I see a lot of white, grey, green... Though I love bright colours, I always seem to go back to natural white and grey. They are the canvas that I paint on with brighter colours, they bring a sense of harmony to the work. I always keep my eyes open for good colour combinations and I usually find the most spectacular ones in nature.
Does the landscape of Finland have an influence in your work?
It definitely does. But it's not particularly Finnish landscapes, the sceneries of places I travel to inspire me just as well. Places are like humans, they have a persona and a presence. That presence or feeling is something that I try to bring to life in my work.
Anyone you truly admire in fashion?
I find Peggy Oki fascinating.
What do you hate the most of today’s fashion?
The insanely fast pace that kills inventiveness.
Is your fashion entwined with art and philosophy? I’ve noticed Stoicism, Karelianism and the traditional Zambian chitenge among your influences. Tell me more about it.
I am very interested in art and history, because artists are able to speak of difficult matters and taboos more freely than anyone else in society. Art is also an interesting reflection of the time and values of a certain period. Another area of interest to me is psychology. People and their emotions, values and acts are endlessly fascinating. I usually have a persona of some kind, imaginary or real, that I'm designing for. Every person has their own view of the world, I guess the philosophical aspect in my work comes from that.
Your clothes have a unique design. Square cuts, cut-outs, triangles, folds… How long did it take you to find your signature and what were your inspirations and references?
I think I'm still looking for my signature style, but I'm glad if it looks coherent for the viewer! One is always evolving, in that sense it's a never-ending journey to find your own voice. I'm always interested in creating forms and details with various materials and then translating them into fabric garments. For my graduation collection I used paper. The folds and cut-outs in the felt pieces come from that. I like to challenge myself and play with patterns to create trompe-l'oeils and gimmicks.
You said you worked for Peter Jensen in London. Do you consider him a mentor?
I learned a lot when working for him and it was great to hear someone so experienced tell his view of the fashion business. I enjoyed my time there and since it's a relatively small design studio, I was able to take part in all of the stages of producing a collection. He's also a very nice and funny guy!
What do you see out on the streets in Helsinki?
People are stylish here, but I think the style is very similar to the other Nordic capitals, you could probably call it Nordic minimalism. I like it, but I would love to see more outrageous and colorful styles in the streets.
Besides Finland, you‘ve lived in some other European cities too. Which one do you think is the most exciting fashion wise?
I've lived in London and in Reykjavik. Reykjavik is hands down the best place to see original street styles. They don't have the cheap clothing chains in there, so people come up with a style of their own, it's very unique and inspiring. The coolness in London makes it less interesting.
Pick a fashion cliché and prove it wrong.
That fashion is something frivolous, dumb, and meaningless. It's a way of expression, an art form and can have as much substance as any other field of art. And like all forms of art it has aspects that are cheap, mass-produced and pointless, but also forms of great intelligence, beauty and wit.
You are still very young. What is your biggest dream / goal for the fashion industry?
It would be nice to work for a bigger company, but in the end I'd like to live off of doing my own thing.